Most Women are RELIEVED to Get an Abortion

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You know, when you’ve been making YouTube videos as long as I have, like seriously 14 years — has YouTube even been around that long? Jesus Christ — you’re destined to repeat yourself. So today I’m embracing that and making a video about how ABORTION IS GOOD AND THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE ABORTIONS ARE WAY BETTER OFF THAN IF THEY WERE FORCED TO HAVE A KID THEY DON’T WANT.

Don’t worry, there is a topical tie-in: a new study, which confirmed what every previous study has shown. UC San Francisco researchers surveyed 667 women who had abortions and found that five years on, 95% of those women thought they had made the right decision. The most common emotion reported by the women? Relief. 

Look, we already knew this. In fact, I made a video FIVE YEARS AGO about the first stage of this exact study, which was published in PLoS One and found that, yep, the overwhelming majority of women do not regret having an abortion. I hope that they do another follow-up to this study in ten years with the same results, because anti-abortion activists have continued to try to bully women into believing that even though they want an abortion now, eventually they’re going to regret it. That is simply not true for the overwhelming majority of women.

What I find interesting is that scientists have gone out and performed these studies — not just this most recent one but several in the past decade — to establish concretely that women do not regret abortions. But there’s scant research on how many parents regret having children. It’s a huge taboo for a parent to say “Actually, if I had to go back and do it all again, I wouldn’t have kids.” But many people feel this way.

Back in my previous video in 2015, I found a survey conducted by the advice columnist Ann Landers in which 10,000 readers responded saying that if they had to do it all over again, they would not have kids. The problem is that that’s not really scientific — after all, maybe parents who regretted having kids were more likely to want to get that off their chest, anonymously, so they were more likely to write in.

So for this updated video, I tried to find more concrete data. The best I was able to find was one survey from 2002 in which the CDC conducted in-person interviews about sex, marriage, and families with about 12,000 Americans. They found that 3% of women and 2% of men do not feel that the rewards of having children outweigh the “cost and work it takes”, which is maybe the nicest way I’ve ever heard someone say “I regret having kids.” Two to three percent isn’t a lot, but it’s about the same number of people who regret having an abortion, so why don’t we talk about it? A woman who regrets not having a kid can grieve about her choice and then, generally, just try again later. But a person who has a kid and regrets that choice has now brought a human life into the world that they are responsible for for the next 18 years, and if that kid is going to grow up to not be a monster than that parent is going to have to work their asses off to pretend that they don’t regret their choice.

It’s all moot, anyway. As I pointed out in my previous video on this topic, something like 37% of people regret getting tattoos. Should we outlaw tattoos? 

Or how about this: a survey from 2018 found that about ? of people regret marrying. I’m not talking about all people who have been married at one point and might now be divorced — that survey was for people who were currently married. 31% said that if they had the chance to do it all over again, they would not marry their current spouse. Yikes.

Look, we all do things we end up regretting. That’s life! Most of my regrets involve losing my keys. Seriously, I’ve put locksmiths’ children through college. Eventually I learned to pick locks but now I also lose my lockpicks. It’s not really a good solution.

The point is that we can’t just outlaw things because some people may do them and then regret it. The solution is to give people the resources they need to make the right decision in the first place. That means affordable childcare and education if they want a baby but don’t know if they can afford it. It means affordable and accessible abortions for people who don’t want babies. It means affordable mental healthcare for people who have conditions that are more likely to lead them to do things they may regret, like anxiety and depression and bipolar disorder. And it means free lockpicking services for idiots who are constantly losing their keys. Or at least a punchcard so I can get my tenth one free. Come on, guys, have a heart.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. Of the two sides, I would think that regret over having children is so much worse. How does one hide that regret from their child/children? That’s got to be impossible to hide. That would also be a good study to not only conduct but track – do they eventually make peace with the choice? And when? When the children become teens? When they move out on their own? Never? Is the regret simply over the work and expense of raising children or are there perceived “missed opportunities?” The nuances could be fascinating.

    1. I think framing this as two-sided is a pro-lifer rhetorical trick. There’s a whole range of views. Almost all of those viewpoints don’t include telling women what to do with their bodies. Even if those views are also firmly anti-abortion. Framing this as “two sides” creates a false equivalence between the tiny, loud pro-life minority’s opinion of women and everyone else’s.

  2. I agree with zylla that it would be fascinating to delve more into the people who regret having had kids. For instance, along the lines of “missed opportunities”, more specifically, not missing them, my SO and I have firmly decided against kids, which causes no small amount of feelings from our friends and families. Mostly, they’re accepting, but I do get complete bafflement or worried fretting from some people, the most annoying being, “oh, that seems like a selfish decision,” but the most common being, “well, once you get older, you’ll regret it, it’s a wonderful experience.” This from parents who regularly regale us with the latest escapades of their mischievous little imps, or kvetch here and there about time, energy, and/or money. I don’t know if any of them regret having had kids; I doubt it, they seem very happy in spite of any strife I might hear about. But I’m almost positive we won’t regret our choice in the long run, especially after we rack up a bunch of experiences we likely wouldn’t have had time or money to pull off given the responsibilities of parenting. All that aside, assaulting pregnant people who are considering abortions with guilt trips about regret is disgusting. I’m glad someone’s studying it.

    1. As far as my aunt and uncle are concerned, they’re nearing the ages my grandparents lived to, and they don’t seem to regret not having children. I don’t understand the decision, as I love my kids, but I’m not going to try to make anyone feel bad about not wanting or having kids. I don’t understand other choices people make, but if they don’t hurt others I see no reason to try and police them.

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